The thrilling second book in the Fear Club series: Summoning
Fear Club 2: The Summoning
By Eden Crowne
Copyright 2018 by Eden Crowne. All rights reserved
Ich Bin Ein Survivor
My Soul Eater sorcerer and protector Julian Lake – who might or might not want to kill me himself – and I were hiding in a culvert beneath a curve of the S-Bahn commuter railway where it rumbled overhead on the way to Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. We were waiting for a heroin-addicted demon called Simon Peter.
Oh, this brave new world of mine.
The empty strip of land we were currently occupying was once under microscopic scrutiny. When East was East and West was West and the war in divided Berlin was cold as ice. Back then, not even a stray cat could cross without a sniper tracking it. The bad old days. Well, the old days were gone but not the bad ones. At least for one soul-lost American girl.
My calves ached and I tried to shift into a more comfortable position. There didn't seem to be one. We'd been hopping all over Berlin since arriving on the night train from Paris the day before yesterday. It was June.
Did we gain a day or lose a day on our flight from Tokyo? Checking the calendar had been a low priority since we made our escape from Japan to Europe. We were on the run. Julian had killed a woman and I’d helped. Not that she didn’t deserve it. Vanessa With-No-Last-Name was a soul eating, murdering, ageless bitch.
My dad, in his ongoing quest to make the world safe for greed, had moved us to a new posting in Tokyo. It was just the two of us since Mom walked out of our lives when I was nine. New city. New school. Things had not gone well for me. I was lonely, desperately missing my friends from our last home in Paris. And then I found a social club online full of clever young people. The Club, they called it. They welcomed me into their group. One, Savan, a handsome Italian art student, tried to steal my heart. He didn’t have to try very hard. My thrilling new life was so much fun -- until it wasn’t. Vanessa and her club of beautiful Soul Eaters ripped out my soul. The sorcerers divided me up in their occult lottery like birthday cake. Three winners, three pieces of soul. A body cannot live without its soul. When the link is fully severed, the body turns to dust.
I will turn to dust.
But not quite yet.
Julian Lake, for reasons of his own –suspicious reasons, but reasons that saved me nonetheless - stepped in to keep me alive.
We’d killed Vanessa to get back one of those pieces. Her death had come with consequences. She took Blaze the Shadow Hound with her. Poor Blaze. When I thought of him bleeding to death in my lap, my mind turned to his master and Julian’s best and perhaps only friend, Albert Pantera. We had not left the half human-half Daemon rock star in much better shape than his hound. Vanessa stabbed him in the back and I still didn’t know if he was alive or dead.
Vanessa wasn’t the only Soul Eater to die in that battle. In a pre-fight ritual, Julian armed himself with supernatural words of power. Sticks and stones may break your bones but magical words can rip you to pieces. At the same time, an angel or something that looked like one gave me a crescent moon pendant with the power to kill and a white feather sharper than a dagger. I’d done my own share of bloodletting.
How ironic. I’d spent my entire life afraid of the creepy crawly horrors hiding in the dark and now, I was one.
During the battle, we learned the name of the second winner from the Club’s lottery for my soul. An Icelandic sorcerer named Baldur. He was why we’d come to Berlin. The only way to get a soul piece back was killing the Soul Eater who held it. A big-time bad guy like Baldur was not going to stand idly by while we hunted him. After the bloodbath in Tokyo, he would know we were on the trail. Julian said he was hunting us just as hard as we were looking for him.
There were a lot of mysteries going on which my jet-lagged brain had yet to catch up with. Suffice to say, we were in danger and without Julian I would already have bit the dust. Quite literally.
I shifted positions, my leg was buzzing into numbness. If we had to spring into action, all I would probably do was fall over. Lexie Carpenter, super failure at being supernatural.
We were crouched by a pile of concrete tetrapods on a large construction site. Massive piles of dirt had been plowed into pyramids next to steel beams and drainage pipes grouped together in careful geometry. Berlin loved to build. Every time I came, the landscaped had shifted. It must be Sunday because the site was deserted. Unlike the United States, Germany still came to a virtual standstill on Sundays.
“Can we stand up please?” I whispered. “My feet have fallen asleep.”
Julian gave me a sour look which did little to change the elegant symmetry of his features. This boy was pretty. His fine cut nose and mouth perfectly aligned with his large emerald green eyes. The thick silver hair brushing his collar and falling artfully across his forehead completed his almost unreal K-Pop-boy-band-grown-in-a-test-tube look. Beauty, I had learned, has nothing to do with character. Julian was a sorcerer, a Soul Eater, and a murderer. A murderer many times over and still only eighteen. He was a monster and he might want to murder me. But for the moment he was my monster. That was all that mattered for now.
Julian reached into a pocket of his knee-length dark brown leather coat. Despite the June heat, he never went out without the coat. He pulled out a re-sealable plastic bag filled with dozens of smaller clear bags of white powder and held it out.
I looked from Julian to the bags, putting both hands up to ward them off. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Is that heroin? You brought him heroin?”
He frowned at me. Julian even looked handsome when he frowned. Not fair somehow.
“It’s not heroin.”
“You said the demon was addicted to heroin.”
He frowned harder. “A substance like heroin. Do try to listen more carefully. Though this drug’s effect is like other opioids, it contains no illegal substances. At least, illegal for humans.”
“Would the cops know that?” I demanded.
He ignored me and carried on, “The drug is refined here in Europe and produces a euphoric or hallucinogenic state depending on how it is consumed. The effects are quite pronounced in both high and low demons plus several other supernatural subspecies.”
“Produced by a friend of yours I am guessing.”
He looked at me sharply, his posture suddenly tense. “How did you know that?”
I shrugged. “You’re a Soul Eater. Not like you hang out with Animal Rights activists and nursery school teachers. So far the people we’ve met in Europe have definitely been on the shady side.”
His posture relaxed slightly. “Ah, right, I see. Conjecture. Fine.” He slapped the bag to my chest, “Take it.”
I scooted away a few inches. “I’m not being your drug mule.”
“Good God, Alexandra. As if that was the least of our worries.”
I stepped back a little farther.
He sighed. I made Julian sigh a lot. “The police are not going to stop us. More importantly, there is nothing illegal in these bags to offend your morality. The only effect it would have on humans is giving them a bad case of indigestion.”
“But for demons?”
“Highly addictive. And given your recent history, you can hardly object to causing pain and suffering to beings of the demonic persuasion.”
He tapped the bag against my chest again.
You learn a lot about yourself in these kinds of situations. My stand against drugs – and it was a firm one – seemingly did not extend to demons. I took it, stuffing the stash into the front pocket of my jeans.
The day was warming up and I could feel the sweat trickling down my spine beneath my black backpack. We were being careful to carry our most important items with us. Just in case we had to make a run for it. My hip length-parka, a change of clothes, and little stuffed dog CoCo were crammed inside.
CoCo drew many sneering looks of disdain from Julian. I’d had the toy King Charles Spaniel since I was one. A first birthday gift from Mom and Dad. Through my sweaty shirt, I could feel the outline of his paws inside the nylon of the backpack. That awful day after the battle on the docks, as I was preparing to run away from everything I’d ever known, I hadn’t been able to leave CoCo behind.
Julian returned to raking the landscape with his razor-sharp glare. In my head, I imagined laser beams shooting out of his eyes as he swept them back and forth. God help anything that got in his way.
“Were they expensive?” I asked. “The drugs?”
We were watching our spending. Julian received a monthly allowance from the trustees of his estate. His full title was Lord Julian Lake, Earl of somewhere-or-other in England. I could never remember the name of his estates. He didn’t like to talk about it anyway. His father died when Julian was very young. “Drank himself to death on the fine vintages in our cellar,” he’d told me. His mother, from what little he said, was some sort of manipulative Witch. A real one. Also, according to Julian, a word that rhymed with Witch and started with a capital 'B'.
He’d used quite a bit of his allowance for his travels in Japan with no more coming until the end of this month. I had several thousand dollars in a savings account and my ATM card with me. I hadn’t used it on Julian’s advice. A ping on the ATM card could send up a flare for our position. I was only seventeen and technically a runaway. It wasn’t the international police we were worried about. Despite my father’s connections, one runaway American was the least of the local constabulary’s concerns in these uncertain times. What we needed to avoid was the long arm of The Club.
Julian had killed many Soul Eaters before he met me. Revenge for the murder of his lover Caroline at their command. He was number one with a silver bullet on their hit list. I was a liability to Julian. He knew that. So did I. And it was one of many reasons I was afraid of him.
“No. A vampire owed me a favor. Several favors to be exact. This is payback for one.”
I was about to ask him about the ‘vampire’ remark when he held up one hand.
“We have company.”
I am not sure what I expected in our drug-loving demon Simon Peter. When we fought Vanessa, she’d brought long-armed goblins with her. The other Soul Eaters had even stranger soldiers. All of them had horns and claws. Big claws.
The figure approaching us looked like a regular person. He was small, no bigger than me, skinny with a mop of curling brown hair, and dressed in a blue hoodie, red-plaid shirt, and khakis. His thin face was clean shaven. Average in the extreme.
Julian stood, letting the shadows fall away. The demon gave a startled exclamation and came to a stop. Several rows of fangs extended from the roof of the mouth and his tongue suddenly flicked in and out. A membrane opened across his eyes revealing yellow pupils.
Okay, now he looked like a demon.
I hauled myself to my feet, leaning on one of the tripods as the circulation burned back into my left foot.
“You brought what I asked for, yes?” Though it sounded more like ‘athked for’ and ‘yeth.’ Simon Peter spoke English with a thick lisp. Probably because of all those teeth.
Julian gave an aristocratic nod, barely acknowledging him. Soul Eaters were pretty much the top of the food chain in the supernatural power pyramid. In every way superior to demons and goblins. And didn’t they know it!
“Show me.” The demon took a step closer, his tongue flicking in and out.
“First things first. My contact said you had information on the Soul Eater Baldur.”
Simon Peter held his hands to his mouth, hissing, “Quiet fool, you’ve been kicking that name around the city like a soccer ball.”
Julian’s brows drew together and he looked at the demon narrowly. Our bond pushed me closer when his emotions were heightened. My current state was much like severe anemia, weakening me physically as the magic tried to sever body and soul. Alchemy was one of Julian’s gifts. He had created a potion anchored with his own blood to keep me strong. One of the side effects of swallowing liquid sorcerer was a growing empathy between me and my savior.
“The name means nothing, surely. His common name for use in public.”
The demon laughed. It was not a nice sound.
“You didn’t know? The great Soul Eater Lord la-dee-da Lake could not taste the magic in those syllables? That is one of his true names, fool.”
At least I think that’s what he said. His lisp was rather thick.
Julian was always pale, but hearing this, he became the color of alabaster marble. Whiter than white.
The demon laughed more.
Julian reached out so fast his hands were a blur, the spells wreathed around his wrists hidden beneath his coat flew into his fingers. He grabbed Simon Peter and shook him. The demon screeched and struggled to escape. Julian was far stronger than his slim form suggested. Snarling, he forced both the demon’s arms behind his back, pinning him to the ground.
“Pardon me if I don’t think this is quite as amusing. What should I be calling him?”
The green bands slid from Julian’s arms to wrap tightly around the demon’s chest.
Simon Peter gasped. “Okay, okay. God, chill out, will you?”
The bands squeezed tighter and Simon Peter groaned. “Magnus Iverson. He uses that as his common name.”
“You obviously have more than that to tell us.”
“Take these damn hexes off. Give me a packet of happy powder to show your good faith and we can talk.”
Julian released the demon and sent the green hexes into the earth. The residual power in the magic shot showers of dirt three feet in the air. Julian had taught me that once called forth, magic must be used. You couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle.
The demon immediately rolled over into a sitting position, ripping off his hoodie and swearing. The magic had melted through the material of both jacket and shirt leaving bright red marks on his pale skin. He was growling out a string of words which I thought might be German. Probably swearing at Julian.
“You didn’t need to do that, it’s not my fault you didn’t know! You Soul Eaters are such mean bastards.”
I snickered, I couldn’t help it. I thought that was funny. ‘Mean bastards', coming from a demon and all.
Julian glared at me. I shut my lips tightly together and tried to look contrite.
Simon Peter held out one hand and wiggled his fingers. “Good faith! Let’s see it.”
Julian nodded at me and I pulled one of the little clear plastic packets from my inner pocket. Julian nodded again. I tossed it to the demon.
Focusing on the bag with a smile, he lost all interest in us. Opening it carefully, he emptied the entire bag in his mouth and swallowed. A puff of powder floated from his lips.
He started to stand, then seemed to think better of it and plopped back on the ground cross-legged.
Eyes closed, he began swaying back and forth, smiling and muttering a little chant under his breath.
Julian snorted impatiently.
As the demon happily fell into whatever blissful state the drug induced, I couldn’t help noticing the sky was growing increasingly dark. Big, fat, clouds blowing in quickly from the horizon. There was a rumble of thunder as a small flash of light lit up one bank of clouds.
“Simon Peter!” Julian shouted, “Pay attention. Your turn.”
Blinking rapidly as though trying to focus his eyes, the demon gave a deep, satisfied sigh.
Julian moved closer. He powered up several more circular spells around his wrist. “If you want more happy dust, tell us what you know of the Soul Eater.”
Simon Peter made a face. “Why the hurry?”
Julian shot one of the spells into his hand and held it ready.
“Fine. All right.” The demon managed to make it to his feet.
“Alexandra, please remove another packet of powder to remind our informant of what he wants.”
I did as Julian said. Simon Peter licked his lips with his long tongue.
Thunder rumbled closer, the clouds were almost overhead. My skin felt hot and itchy all over. I did not like the way these clouds were converging on our worksite parlay.
Julian followed my gaze. “Miss Carpenter, would you begin counting to ten slowly? At nine. Tell me.”
‘Miss Carpenter?’ He always called me Alexandra. A warning, I guessed. Something bad was going to happen when I reached ten.
“Your Soul Eater is searching for relics to power up a spell. There was a break-in at the Pergamon Museum two days ago. That was him.”
“How do you know?”
“One of my pack mates was on the team. He killed him. That’s why I’m helping you. I don’t like Magnus Iverson.”
“Nor do we.”
“Nine Mississippi, Julian.”
Julian grabbed Simon Peter and me by the arm and pulled us closer to the shelter of the tripods.
Three bolts of lightning struck the ground in quick succession. Each about twenty yards away in a rough circle around us.
“Again,” said Julian to me.
I started over.
Simon Peter took stock of the situation. “You guys are on your own.” He started to jump up on the tripods, intending to skip away no doubt.
Julian grabbed the demon’s shirt tail and wrenched him back beside us. “Come here, worm. You want your drugs, don’t you?”
Simon Peter sprawled at Julian’s feet.
“Awk,” he mumbled.
Thunder boomed overhead.
“What is Magnus looking for?”
“Awk,” Simon Peter mumbled again.
Julian kicked him.
“Dust,” he gasped out.
“What do you mean dust?”
Simon Peter squirmed trying to stand, “We should go!”
“Nine Mississippi,” I yelled.
Grabbing both of us, Julian jumped forward this time, away from the tripods.
Three strikes flashed into the earth, one hit the tripods where we’d just been standing, sending a shower of sharp concrete shards flying. I covered my face as Julian placed himself between me and the flying debris.
“Scheisse!” swore Simon Peter, ducking to the ground.
“Tell me!” Julian shouted.
“About Pergamon, I know nothing more.” Simon Peter looked from the clouds to Julian. “But he is far too interested in the Kaiser Wilhelm Church.”
“The ruins or the new building?”
Simon Peter tried to twist out of Julian’s grip. “How do I know! Start there for God’s sake.”
The thunder rolled so loudly I felt it in the soles of my feet.
Julian’s voice became cold, “Worm! You did this. Who did you tell?”
“No one!” protested Simon Peter.
Simon Peter’s expression underwent a subtle change. He shed the frightened look and smiled. I did not like that smile. “This isn’t me, Soul Eater. You keep your enemies too close.”
We scrambled to our feet, Julian kept hold of Simon Peter and I grabbed Julian’s coat.
He did a sort of hop-skip-jump with us in tow first to the right then swerving left. Again, three bolts hit the earth, one so close the shock singed the hem of my jacket. The smell of smoking nylon and burning ozone floated in the warm air.
Simon Peter wriggled out of Julian’s grip, bending and turning his torso at impossible angles. The human visage melted away and a reptile-like creature crouched before us. A long, black whip of a tail uncurled from his waist. He snapped and it cracked like the lightning bolts falling from the sky. Simon Peter summoned his own magic, dirty brown and gray.
His tail reached out and snatched the small package of powder in in my hand. It curled back and he took the bag.
“Give me the rest!” He snapped his tail inches from Julian’s face.
“You haven’t earned more than that.”
The demon shouted what sounded like expletives in another language. He hurled a spell at Julian. The magic bounced off Julian’s own shields and I barely managed a duck-and-roll to the side as the run-off came looking for me.
Simon Peter’s tail snapped again, stretching out faster than the eye could follow to wrap around Julian’s ankle. With a massive heave, he swept Julian off his feet and flung him in the air to smash into one of the tripods.
“Nine Mississippi!” I shouted to Julian and threw myself bodily into the demon.
With my whole weight behind me, I knocked him off balance. He fell forward. He would have been right on top of Julian if my Soul Eater protector didn’t possess the speed of the damned.
Rolling out of the way, he knocked into me, grabbed hold of my shoulders and kept rolling.
“Ten Mississippi,” I exhaled into Julian’s ear.
The lightning struck only inches from us. I felt the burn on my face and hands. A shock that traveled up from my feet to my brain and then shot back down again. The strike was so loud; the world became suddenly silent. There wasn’t even a ringing in my ears, only a total absence of sound. My breath was trapped in my throat; I couldn’t find enough air to cry out.
I felt a hard thump on my back and gasped, sucking in a smoke-tinged, dusty lungful of air. I felt sick to my stomach as this quiet world wobbled in front of me.
Simon Peter’s reptilian head rolled to a stop about a foot away.
Turning to one side I threw up.
Something touched my foot and I gave a sort of squirming, sideways, flop.
What remained of Simon Peter’s severed tail remained wrapped around Julian’s ankles. It was still wriggling.
I threw up some more.
Julian unwrapped the wriggling tail and kicked it away with a look of disgust. He dragged himself to a sitting position and leaned back against one of the tripods.
Overhead, the clouds were dissipating, revealing beautiful blue sky and sending shafts of golden sunlight to brighten the gray construction site. The magic gone so quickly there was still smoke rising out of the craters.
Hopefully, that meant I didn’t have to count to ten anymore.
My hearing came back in a process that felt like cotton balls slowly being pulled out of my brain.
A few feet away, nothing was left of Simon Peter. Except for his head and his tail. Not even a glob of gooey demon slick. Just scorched earth.
Reaching into my pocket, I shook out a couple of mints and popped them into my mouth.
“Well, that was fun and oh look,” I picked up and shook the white powder packet which had also survived the lightning strike, “we still have our drugs.”
“Put it back with the other bags. That’s valuable currency on the demonic black market. I have a feeling we are going to need it.”
I gave Julian a quick once-over. “You’re bleeding,” I mumbled around my mints. Julian was often ripped and torn. He never took much notice of it and I was learning to do the same.
I pointed to his head. His silver hair had a thick scarlet streak smeared over one ear. He’d smacked his head against the tripod when the demon threw him.
He gingerly touched the wound with his finger. Except for a quick intake of breath, he betrayed no emotion. “It will heal.”
He pulled a pack of wet wipes out of his coat pocket. Julian was a sorcerer of many pockets. The dark leather coat hid a wealth of magical objects. I was often surprised at the variety of weapons, amulets and potions he could pull out in an instant. It was like he reached into another dimension every time he put his hand inside.
All I had in my pockets was my passport, mints, a bottle of ibuprofen, and some euros. Oh, and a stash of demon heroin.
He dabbed at the blood, carefully folding the tissues and putting each one away as he finished. “Why did you keep shouting the word Mississippi? Was it supposed to be some sort of code?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t know, being a Brit and all. It’s how we count off seconds in America. ‘One Mississippi’ equals almost exactly a second.”
“Ah,” was all he said.
Julian had been subtly different since the death of Vanessa and the return of my tiny bit of soul. He was never chatty to begin with but since leaving Japan he only spoke to me when necessary. Caroline had made a momentary appearance at Vanessa’s death. The deceased love of Julian’s young life. Sacrificed to his vanity by his Soul Eating companions. She hadn’t died at once. If the victim was strong enough to survive the initial ceremony, they could hold on for weeks or even months. Julian kept her safe and embarked on a crusade to gather the three pieces to restore her soul. Thanks to his alchemy and enhanced blood, he’d been able to keep her alive for six months, eventually locating two pieces of her soul. The third had eluded him.
The death of the apparently perfect Caroline at the hands of the Club had scarred Julian deeply. Turning him against his former comrades. Personally, I thought if Caroline was such a great girl, she would neither have listened to Julian urging her to become a Soul Eater nor started practicing dark magic. He made her sound angelic. Angels saved souls, they didn’t destroy them.
When a Soul Eater meets the true death, all the souls he or she has consumed are set free. After we killed Vanessa, Caroline’s last piece of soul fluttered over to say hello. Julian hadn’t even known Vanessa possessed it and the shock was brutal.
Caroline’s death set him on a murderous trail of vengeance that eventually led him to me. Julian swooped in declaring his intention to retrieve my missing soul bits and save me from dust. Sometimes I believed he meant it.
My own soul fragment, courtesy of Vanessa’s death, hung in a crystal vial around my neck on a gold chain.
Wet tissues in hand, Julian sponged off any traces of blood left on the concrete tripod. Blood could be used in tracking spells and to create a nasty hex. He was always careful with his. I’d learned to keep an eye on mine as well.
He stood and turned in a circle for my inspection. There was none on his coat and I gave a nod of approval.
“Did we learn something good?” I asked staring at the smoking crater where Simon Peter stood menacingly moments before.
“We learned I have been an egotistical idiot.”
I refrained from agreeing. Julian Lake was all about ego, though seldom an idiot. Saying nothing, I waited for him to explain. Which he would. I think he took secret pleasure in my ignorance of all things magical. If he hadn’t been a sorcerer he would have been a professor, fiercely lecturing groups of students in those big British hallowed halls.
Instead, I prompted, “Because Bal…”
He was beside me in a blur of motion, his hand over my mouth. “Don’t say it. Not anymore! He is an old sorcerer, more than a thousand years he’s been playing this game. For those who wield such old magic, a name holds a strong resonance of power. It’s acts like a sonar ping right back to us. Every time I said his name; he felt a jolt. Knew that someone was talking about him.”
“But Senator Chen gave you that name, after the fight. He said it was to spite the Council.”
Senator Chen, whose first name was indeed Senator, was and maybe still is Captain of the Soul Eaters Tokyo Cell. He had been present at our battle with Vanessa and the others, though he didn’t take part.
Julian’s face looked grim and I could feel small pulses of anxious energy from him with every heartbeat.
“He knew what he was doing. He knew it. I was so anxious to have that name. I have said it to a dozen people. What a fool I am. I might as well have put up billboards advertising our presence in Berlin.”
“Simon Peter said he wasn’t working for … uh, what do we call him now?”
“Right. If not Magnus Soul Monster, then who sent the lightning bolts? The Club?”
“On the surface, it appears so. They would have the power to draw that spell. Why kill you now? The harder you fight, the stronger your soul. Strong souls are what we value. Thus the house rules against killing the vessel before they succumb naturally to their soul-less state. It wouldn’t make sense for them to murder you outright. I, of course, am always on their list. This…” he indicated the craters around the construction site, “I didn’t feel any sort of spellwork or presence when we came. Elemental magic. Random and unformed. Curious.”
“But it stopped chasing us so I am guessing that once the magic drew blood, the spells dissipated.”
He gave me an appraising look, “That is exactly what happened.”
“What do we do about him?” I gestured vaguely in the direction of the demon’s head. Not wanting to look at the gruesome thing.
“Leave it to me. Keep looking over there.” He pointed at the skyline.
I did what he said. I heard a fizzing and sizzling and something smelled bad enough I thought I would throw up again.
Julian took my hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
“I’m hungry,” I said brushing the dirt off my clothes as we walked swiftly back in the direction of Alexanderplatz.
I felt the velvet touch of Julian’s shadow glamour fall over us. “When are you not?”
Weaving the Inter Webs
I didn’t get anything to eat until we reached Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten, or Zoo Station, a few stops further along the S-Bahn train line. This was the closest station to Kaiser Wilhelm Church. Our clue from the late Simon Peter. Julian was determined to put some distance between us and the construction site before we paused. Even with my limited knowledge of magic, I knew something was not right with that lightning attack.
Exiting on the Berlin Zoo side, it was impossible to miss the monumental ruined bell tower of Kaiser Wilhelm across the street. The building was preserved as a memorial of World War II. A warning not to forget the ravages such a conflict brought on its own people. The church had a grand, if somber, presence. Still a vital part of the ever-shifting Berlin skyline.
Julian let the glamour drop as we left the train, though he remained shrouded in shadow. You could see he was there, just not any distinguishing features. The spell made curious eyes slide over him. At first it had affected me too, which was a little disconcerting as I couldn’t look him in the eye when we talked. Gradually, I learned to peer beneath the fuzzy exterior for the real Julian: shining silver hair and all.
I was disguised too. Digitally rather than magically. Though the methods seemed almost like wizardry to me. There is a lot of surveillance in Europe. The age of “Big Brother” had arrived here with a vengeance. Facial recognition software was in place at many stations and even on the street in a handful of countries. Germany had embraced the technology, especially at train and subway stations.
In Paris, we made a stop at a truly sketchy shop before hopping our train at the Gare du Nord. The kind of place with reinforced metal doors, no windows, and a little sliding face plate to identify visitors. Julian had to give some sort of code phrase before the door opened. Inside were two large and I thought not quite human men armed with shotguns. The owner or sales clerk or wizard-in-residence was behind thick Plexiglas with palm-sized openings at the bottom.
Julian purchased a pair of black-framed glasses I now wore all the time. Plus a clear face gel I was supposed to refresh regularly. The lenses on the glasses and even the frames had a diffraction pattern on them invisible to the human eye. The pattern fuzzed facial recognition software. If it couldn’t read something, the computer automatically skipped right over onto the next subject. The clear gel I spread over my cheeks, lips, and chin employed the same principle with microscopic refracting particles built into the ingredients. Even without Julian’s shadow I was effectively invisible – at least to surveillance cameras.
Within hours of arriving in Paris, we dyed my long light brown hair blond. Julian gave me bangs straight across that dipped almost to my eyelashes. I did a double-take every time I looked in a mirror. Unrecognizable to myself physically and emotionally. A completely different girl than a week ago. Changed forever by my baptism in blood and death.
I could only hope the disguise would be enough. Senator Chen, Captain of the Tokyo Cell, hinted the Council was involved in their determined acquisition of my soul. A project they were still anxious to complete.
Popular for all the wrong reasons. Yay.
I’d wanted currywurst and said so to Julian. Zoo Station had a famous sausage stand selling this cheap but satisfying Berlin specialty of a fat bratwurst fried and cut into slices then topped with ketchup and curry powder.
I knew the area around here well. My dad and I came to Berlin yearly for some sort of let’s- make-mo’ money-mo’money-mo’money corporate conference and he brought me with him.
We always stayed at the same hotel on K-Damn when we were in town. K-Damm was the nickname for Kufurstendamm boulevard, Berlin’s version of Fifth Avenue. A broad boulevard full of shops and cafes from casual to luxurious. The hotel was only a fifteen-minute walk from Zoo Station and I liked to prowl around the discount shops off the boulevard. More my style than the luxury brands a few blocks away. One of my favorite stores in the city, a super cheap shoe store, was tucked in an alley across from the station.
The sausage place was nothing but a stand near one of the exits. Julian said no to currywurst. We needed to sit and talk. Instead, he guided me to a casual Asian fusion place only half a block away but still in sight of the station. In a few minutes, I had forgotten all about sausages. This place specializing in fried noodles turned out to be awesome. It had a whole system going: choose from several different kinds of noodles; pick from a bunch of sauces – I chose Coconut Curry --- and whatever vegetables or meat you wanted – I picked roast chicken and mixed veggies. Then they cooked everything up right there. Voila, delicious!
“How did you know about this place?” I asked inhaling the fragrant scent of the coconut sauce and cilantro as we took our trays to a table. Julian picked one near but not in front of the big picture windows overlooking the pedestrian area adjacent to this side of the station.
“It’s a chain, actually. I was in Madrid on a hunting expedition and stumbled upon one.”
By ‘hunting’ he meant stalking and killing Soul Eaters.
“Noticed the logo sign when we exited Zoo Station.”
The noodles were fabulous. I got a large cola and dug in. Now that my stomach and the world had stopped spinning, I was ravenous. The noodles in curry sauce tasted so good I wanted to cry. For a second I flashed on the fried noodles our maid in Tokyo often made. Tokyo was not something I should be thinking about. I pushed the memory aside and got back to my food.
Julian was as hungry as me. Magic takes a lot of physical energy and he needed to eat to restore his strength. The drinking age in Germany is eighteen and he’d gotten a bottle of local beer to go with his noodles.
Once we’d both taken the edge off our appetites, I ventured to ask about Kaiser Wilhelm Church. I’d been there several times. The religious mosaics that survived the bombing were intricate and inspiring.
“Simon Peter said Ba…,” he stopped suddenly and corrected himself, “Magnus is looking for a relic connected with the church. However, he also spoke of a robbery at the Pergamon Museum.”
I paused in stuffing my mouth with noodles and pulled out my new iPhone knockoff. Julian had gotten cell phones for us here in Berlin. We couldn’t afford a portable hotspot but the city had tons of free Wi-Fi, the noodle shop included.
“Let’s use the magic of Google Translate and see if there’s anything in the news about what was stolen.” I tapped on my phone and soon found out ‘art theft’ was Kunstraub in German. In the local German search engine, I entered Kunstraub and Pergamon Museum.
Bam. Several articles came right up.
Julian scooted over and leaned in to look at them with me. We didn’t need to understand the whole piece. We were looking for pictures and keywords.
The Pergamon Museum is all about its collection of classical antiquity. Which I learned is called Antikensammlung in German. I picked out Ishtar Tor, the famous reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate. And Babylonishch, obviously Babylonian in German. The Ishtar Gate was one of several gates at the different entrances to ancient Babylon. I loved the Ishtar Gate, the façade emblazoned with mythical beasts. My dad and I visited the Pergamon each time we came to Berlin.
I saw Konig, that meant king and Nebuchadnezzar. The gate had been built by King Nebuchadnezzar II. I knew that already. The rest of the article was a bit of a puzzle. Luckily Julian stepped in, telling me it was something about building bricks. He used the translation app on his own phone and we learned two of the bricks from the Ishtar Gate had been stolen.
“But it’s a copy. Babylon is no more.” I waved an imaginary ‘farewell’ to the Babylonians. “Gone. Kaput. Auf wiedersehen.”
“Some of the bricks in the reconstruction are from the original.”
I paused with my chopsticks in the air, noodles dangling. “No way! Really real Babylonian bricks? I didn’t know that.”
“German’s are quite thorough. They would not say it if it was not true. Magnus must have been able to divine which were real and which were copies.”
Julian looked through the article, his German far better than mine, “Several glass cases were broken. Nothing was taken. As far as the museum officials can tell, the only things missing are the bricks.”
Julian stared out the window, lost in thought.
I went back to the business of eating my noodles.
“Blood,” he said at last.
I paused, my mouth full, “Where?” I looked outside and on the floor, just in case. No blood that I could see.
“In the bricks.”
“Oh.” Which meant ‘WTF Julian,’ in Lexie speak.
“The bricks were mixed with blood.”
“The Pergamon bricks? What’s blood in German?” I picked up my phone to look through the article again.
“No, there is nothing in the news, Alexandra. They are keystone bricks. Mixed with blood and magic to give them added strength and protection. That is the only thing that would make them worth stealing to a sorcerer of Magnus’ caliber.”
I resigned myself to a lecture by Professor Julian on yet another fact of history I did not know.
“In ancient times it was believed the blood of powerful individuals or animals put into a building helped to protect it and the people within. There were both willing and unwilling sacrifices. Cornerstones were often blessed with the blood of a wizard or a warrior.”
“What about the broken cases?”
“Simon Peter said Magnus killed one of his pack mates. My guess is the demon became greedy and attempted to grab some treasures for himself. Magnus objected. Death ensued.”
“Because he’s an honorable Soul Eater?” I pumped a full measure of scorn into my voice.
Julian took a deep breath. He often did this, I’d noticed, when he was deciding to tell me something or not.
“Because…” I prompted.
“Our adversary is an old being. Judging by his lack of socializing within the Club and other clues, he is deeply concerned with research and educating himself in magic. The Club is a means to an end. Consuming souls enable him to prolong his life and his studies in magic and, I am guessing, alchemy. He took only what was needed and expected his minions to follow his orders to the letter. He is not greedy. Not like most of the other Soul Eaters I have met. This makes him especially dangerous. Well done, Alexandra. You were right to quickly pursue this lead. Knowing he needs these bricks gives us a hook to start our investigations at Kaiser Wilhelm Church.”
“If the demon was telling the truth.”
“There was no reason for him to lie regarding Magnus.”
“He needs the bricks, or their dust, to use in a spell or potion?”
“Some ancient alchemy. Perhaps combined with a relic of equal value at Kaiser Wilhelm Church.”
His phone gave an ‘incoming text’ buzz. “Look and see what you can find on the church.”
Tapping in the name I read through several short pieces. “Can I talk?”
Still looking at his phone, Julian nodded.
“Wikipedia says it’s a Protestant church and not built until 1891. Okay, not really old…” I let the sentence trail. Relics, I figured, were ancient things. And even I knew Protestantism, in historical terms, was not that old.
Only half paying attention, Julian nevertheless sneered, “And Wikipedia knows all.”
“Don’t be a jerk, Julian,” I said automatically. I was used to his remarks. He seemed to consider me about as intelligent as a fifth grader. And I guess, next to his soaring intellect and powers, I was. But he didn’t have to keep pointing it out.
We had an interesting sort of relationship. I seemed to exasperate him mostly. Rolling his eyes and saying, “Really, Alexandra,” in his posh accent. For my part, Julian Lake frightened and entranced me in pretty much equal measures. He had been a member of the Club. A Soul Eater. Now he hunted them. Killing them when he could and taking their powers to empower him for the next battle and all because of Caroline.
He had only spoken of her at length once. We were in Tokyo. He’d fought a Kiros death demon coming to steal the spirit of one of the Clubs young victims. A girl named Keiko. After defeating the Kiros, I’d watched her turn to dust in Julian’s arms. That moment was when I knew magic was all real. Both of us needed a strong cup of coffee to recover and he told me about Caroline.
Though he didn’t say it in so many words, I guessed Caroline and Julian were childhood sweethearts. Known each other since they were in diapers. First love and all that. He was the one who brought Caroline to the Club. Pressed her to join and share in the immortality and power the Soul Eaters killed for. Instead, they had sacrificed her secretly. Senior members of the Club feared Julian's growing strength and sought to teach him his place by her death. And look how well that plan worked out for them!
What I still didn’t know was whether he was helping me out of a sense of revenge for Caroline, or to bring her back to life. Using me. This had been hinted at by several people who should know.
“What else does the omnipotent Wikipedia say?”
I waved my chopsticks in the air. “On a different site now. Did you know there was a modern church building next to it? I forgot and I’ve been here a bunch of times. Oh, they melted its five famous bells down for bullets in World War Two. Ouch. God couldn’t have liked that much. No wonder Germany lost.”
I glanced up to see if he was being sarcastic.
He met my eyes, “There is always a reckoning for those who abuse the spirit. Even for sorcerers such as myself. One day I will pay for my actions against the human soul.”
“You believe in God?” I blurted out. “A heavenly judgment?”
He looked suddenly tragic, his eyes distant, his voice hoarse, “How could I not? After all I have seen and done. Karma takes no prisoners.”
Not knowing what to say to such a personal admission, I said nothing.
I scanned the entry quickly for anything relevant to a toxic ancient Soul Eater looking for some un-named magical object. “Ummm… here. The crucifix in the memorial hall has iron nails from the crucifix in England’s Coventry Cathedral. Coventry was bombed to bits by the Germans during the war. Could that be what he’s after? The nails, I mean.”
He was focused on his phone. “Coventry? Yes. A possibility.”
Nothing else seemed relevant until, “Wait, wait. It says there’s a Spanish wooden crucifix dating to the twelfth century.”
He raised an eyebrow, “That might be significant. If he’s looking to concoct a potion using objects of ancient reverence.”
“Maybe the robberies started before Berlin,” I said.
Julian’s focus had returned to his cell phone and he gave a noncommittal, “Mmmm.”
Searching under ‘museum robberies’ and several other similar headings I ended up with more than I bargained for. Around the time we were in Tokyo bones from an ancient tomb had been stolen from a museum in some rural city. A similar break-in occurred at the National Museum in Kyoto. This one in their climate-controlled warehouse. The job had been so carefully carried out, no one noticed for several days.
That was why Magnus was in Japan. That and taking his chances with the soul lottery – which he won. On a hunch, I searched under ‘news, grave robbing.’ Nothing jumped out from the returns but I suspected I was on the right track.
Satisfied I’d done my part, I set down the phone and went back to my noodles. After slurping up the last bite I noticed Julian was awfully quiet. His concentration remained fixed on his cell phone. He was texting with great care.
“Who are you texting?” I asked automatically. Not that it mattered. He would probably say “Really, Alexandra, as if you would understand!” or something equally insulting.
Instead, he said quietly, “Albert’s mother.”
Carefully I pushed away from the table.
I met Albert Pantera when he stepped in to save me from a savage beating by, I could hardly bear to admit it, my ex-boyfriend Savan. Savan was a card-carrying member of the Soul Eaters Club and one of the reasons for my downfall and looming death. That night Albert and his massive Shadow Hound Blaze had taken up my cause as their own. Albert Pantera was the lead singer of the mega-hit group the Albert Einsteins. He was also a half Daemon with a long flirty tail and many kick-ass battle hexes.
I repaid their bravery and kindness with blood and death. Albert put his life on the line for me. A stupid ordinary human girl he barely knew. His dog Blaze guarded and protected me. I hadn’t been able to save Blaze and I hadn’t been able to help his master. My last glimpse of Albert was on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance.
“I’ve been trying his phone since Tokyo but they’d shut it off,” Julian said quietly. “Then I went through their company offices in London and Tokyo.”
The Panteras ran a large international import/export company that catered to supernaturals.
“You’ve been talking with her?”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
I punched him in the shoulder. “You told me you didn’t know his condition.”
“In case he died, Alexandra. For twenty-four hours, there was a good chance that might happen. Your emotional condition was and still is fragile. I thought it best to protect you.”
I punched him again, harder. “Not your choice! This is my guilt to bear. My responsibility even if it tears me to pieces.”
He stared at me. He looked… surprised.
I stared back, my hands on my hips.
“My apologies,” he said at last. “I presumed too much.”
“Yeah, you did. Is…” my voice faltered, “Is he… Is he…”
Julian’s face softened uncharacteristically. “Albert is in Intensive Care at St. Luke’s Hospital in Tokyo. He was critical but has been shifted to stable but serious condition. He will recover. This is good news.”
My heart slid into my shoes and I felt nauseous. “Is it really?” I asked. “He’s only there because of me. We both know that.”
“No, Alexandra. Albert is as he was made. Noble and brave. For a man such as he, there could be no other choice. Believe me, in the past I did my rotten best to drive him away. He never abandoned me. Even at my worst.”
“The Club…” I began.
Julian held up one hand, “Will not be able to touch him. Both parents are there. No one could cross that fearsome barrier. Not even me!” He gave a short laugh.
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
I ran to the back of the noodle shop and locked myself in the girl’s bathroom. I didn’t want Julian to see me cry. Sinking to the floor, my legs like jelly, I sobbed and choked and sobbed harder. The tears only partially purging the guilt and fear over Albert I’d been carrying since that murderous night at the docks. Eventually, I sagged against the wall of the stall, panting for breath, wiping my nose and eyes on wads of soggy toilet paper.
Albert was an incorrigible flirt. At the docks, as he lay bleeding, he’d asked me to kiss him. “Tell me you love me,” he said. “Even if you don’t mean it.”
I’d done as he asked, thinking it was the last thing he might hear. I didn’t believe he loved me. He liked me though and that was good enough. I’d grown up a lot in the past few months. I cared for Albert deeply; it wasn’t love.
My feelings were already tied up in magical knots from the potions Julian was feeding me. Confusing my head and my heart in equal portions. ‘I like Julian, I hate him, I like Julian, I hate him,’ played on a continuous loop day after day, changing hour by hour. The connection I felt with Julian could not be real. It was magic. Nothing more. And, as I reminded myself at least ten times a day, he might be grooming me as a replacement body for Caroline exactly as my abusive ex-boyfriend Savan said.
It took a few more minutes to get control of myself. With a final sniff and swipe at my tears, I went back to Julian.
He handed me the jar of clear face gel. “Here, you’ve probably cried it off.”
Our emotional connection worked both ways.
Once I’d renewed my digital disguise, he handed me something very different. A small glass vial of dark red liquid. It was potion time. I hadn’t had any in almost twenty-four hours. Saying nothing, I drank it down, washing the metallic taste out with a last swallow of Coke.
“Albert will recover. But you may not if we don’t move on Magnus. Come.”
He was right. My soul-less condition gave a completely new spin to the term ‘my biological clock is ticking.’ I was counting down to doomsday.